Beckett on Film Project

2001, 622 minutes (10 hours, 37 min.)

Produced by Michael Colgan and Alan Moloney
Blue Angel Films/Tyrone Productions for Radio Telefís Éireann and Channel 4

Disc 1:
Disc 2:
Waiting for Godot
Not I
Rough for Theatre I
Ohio Impromptu
Krapp's Last Tape
What Where
Come and Go
Act Without Words I
Disc 3:
Disc 4:
Happy Days
Rough for Theatre II
That Time
Act Without Words II
A Piece of Monologue

Beckett on Film Project
In 1991, Michael Colgan, artistic director of the Gate Theatre in Dublin, produced a Beckett Festival – all nineteen of Beckett's stage plays (minus Eleuthéria), performed to rave reviews and then imported to London and New York. During this time he began to consider the idea of turning all of the plays into films. Eventually connecting with filmmaker Alan Moloney, the "Beckett on Film Project" was finally realized in 2000-2001: nineteen films by nineteen different directors, each charged with adapting their play to the demands of film while adhering to Beckett's careful directions. Partially funded by RTÉ and Channel 4, the project called upon a wealth of talent from all creative spheres – theater, film, television, acting, and even music. Although some of the "adaptations" raised some controversy, the final result is quite an acheivement, and represents a significant addition to the field of Beckett performance.

The 19 Films:

Courtesy of Michael Dwyer and The Irish Times, the films are:

Waiting For Godot (132 minutes excluding interval).
Michael Lindsay-Hogg directs the Irish cast who played it at the Gate -- Barry McGovern, Johnny Murphy, Stephen Brennan and Alan Stanford.

Not I (15 minutes)
Neil Jordan directs Julianne Moore, the American actress who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in his film, The End of the Affair, and lighting cameraman Roger Pratt who also received an Oscar nomination for his work on that film. "Neil filmed it in one take every time," says Moloney. "At the end of the first take the entire crew applauded, which I've never seen happen before on a film set."

Rough For Theatre I (19 minutes).
Directed by another bright young Irish film-maker, Kieron J. Walsh, who is now in postproduction on the Roddy Doyle scripted romantic comedy feature, Stolen Nights (also known as When Brendan Met Trudy). It features Milo O'Shea and David Kelly.

Ohio Impromptu (15 minutes).
Charles Sturridge directs a doubled Jeremy Irons.

Krapp's Last Tape (55 minutes)
Atom Egoyan, the Canadian filmmaker whose many distinguished credits include Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter and Felicia's Journey, directs. Krapp is played by John Hurt, whose performance in the role earned him rave reviews when the play was staged in London recently.

What Where (12 minutes)
The director is Damien O'Donnell, the young Dubliner whose first feature film, East is East, was a major critical and commercial success and recently won the BAFTA award for Best British Film of 1999. The actors are Sean McGinley and Gary Lewis, and the production designer is Tom Conroy. "Damien has made it more powerful than it's ever been on stage," says Michael Colgan. "Samuel Beckett's nephew, Edward, saw it and he thought it had more of an impact than it ever had on stage."

Footfalls (27 minutes).
Susan Fitzgerald plays May, a role she has played on stage in Dublin, London and New York. The director is Walter Asmus, who was Beckett's favourite director and who has directed the play for the theatre and for German television.

Come and Go (6 minutes).
Theatre director John Crowley's film debut stars Paola Dionisetti, Anna Massey and Sian Philips.

Act Without Words I (22 minutes)
Karel Reisz, who made Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The French Lieutenant's Woman, directs his first film in 10 years. Man is played by the renowned mime artist, John Foley. The music is by Michael Nyman.

Happy Days (79 minutes excluding interval).
The director is Patricia Rozema, the Canadian film-maker who made a remarkable début with I've Heard the Mermaids Singing and followed it with the underrated White Room. Her latest film is the radical Jane Austen adaptation, Mansfield Park. Rosaleen Linehan plays Winnie, a role she has played many times on the stage. Willie is played by Ricahrd Johnson.

Catastrophe (16 minutes)
A true heavyweight production. The playwright and film-maker, David Mamet, directs a cast consisting of Harold Pinter, the playwright whose most recent acting role was in Mansfield Park; Rebecca Pidgeon, who is married to Mamet and has featured in many of his films; and the venerable John Gielgud, in what was his final acting role. "It brings together three of the great playwrights of the last century," Colgan adds. "Beckett was a great influence on Pinter, and Pinter was a great influence on Mamet." The film was shot in an old music hall in London.

Rough For Theatre II (35 minutes). Katie Mitchell directs; starring Timothy Spall, Jim Norton, and Hugh B. O'Brien.

Breath (45 seconds)
There are no characters, just a pile of rubbish, and the director is the artist, Damien Hirst. "He's a mate of mine," says Moloney. "He got a bit nervous because he didn't want to misrepresent Beckett. A lot of the directors felt like that."

That Time (15 minutes).
Charles Garrad directs Niall Buggy.

Endgame (84 minutes)
Michael Gambon and David Thewlis are "extraordinary" as Hamm and Clov, says Colgan, and the cast is completed by Charles Simon and Jean Anderson, both of them 92 years old, as the two people in the dustbins. The film is directed by Conor McPherson, who scripted the Irish movie, I Went Down, and recently turned film director with Saltwater, adapted from his own stage play, This Lime Tree Bower.

Act Without Words II (9 minutes).
The director is Enda Hughes, the resourceful young Armagh filmmaker who made the low-budget feature, The Eliminator, and the award-winning short film, Flying Saucer Rock'n'Roll.

A Piece of Monologue (19 minutes).
Featuring the established Irish stage actor, Stephen Brennan, as Speaker, and directed by Robin Lefevre, whose many credits include the recent Gate production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which featured Frances McDormand, Liam Cunningham and Donna Dent, and the television series, Jake's Progress, written by Alan Bleasdale.

Play (16 minutes).
The director is Anthony Minghella, whose film of The English Patient received nine Oscars, including best picture and best director, and whose most recent movie is the seductive Patricia Highsmith adaptation, The Talented Mr Ripley. He has assembled a remarkably strong cast comprising Juliet Stevenson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Alan Rickman. "Anthony first directed Play when he was a student," Colgan adds.

Rockaby (14 minutes).
The accomplished British theatre and film director, Richard Eyre, is at the helm. The role of Woman is portrayed by Penelope Wilton.

There is little doubt that this is a monumental acheivement, and as each of the nineteen films features a different director and cast, each will eventually get its own entry here at Apmonia. The set as a whole is quite attractively produced, containing four DVDs and a booklet, all snugly tucked into a handsome box. At $150 for the set, however, its price tag is almst prohibitively high. For $38/disc, you are obviously paying for the "quality" and "artistry" of the productions rather than any straight market price for standard DVDs. (compare the 7-disc, 17-hour Wagnerian Ring Cycle or the 6-disc, 10-hour Band of Brothers miniseries; both priced at $120 and generally available for less.) True, there is an hour-long documentary and "addenda" for each film, but these sort of extras have long become standard for any high-quality DVD collection.
The steep cost is additionally aggravated by the inconsistent quality of the digital transfers – fitting nearly eleven hours onto four DVDs has overcrammed the discs, and here and there the digitization process has suffered. This flaw is unevenly distributed across the films – on the first disc, for instance, Not I looks crisp and clear while Ohio Impromptu dispalys a distracting amount of "pixellation" in its dark sections.
Despite the uneven quality of the transfers, this is nevertheless a collection no Beckett fan will want to be without, and I cannot recommend it more highly on purley artistic terms. However, it is lamentable that the price has to be so high, especially given the uneven quality of the transfers.

Ordering Information

Beckett on Film Project
Blue Angel Films, 2001, 4-DVD set; $149.95.

Offsite Links

Web Resources:

Official "Beckett on Film" Page -- Extensively details the Beckett on Film project, including notes on each of the 19 films.

PBS Beckett Film Page -- Selected plays were recently shown in the U.S. as part of the "Stage on Screen" program.

RTÉ Web site -- This wonderful site contains dozens of links to the Beckett on Film project, including numerous real-audio interviews with directors, producers, and actors. Just run "Beckett on Film" or "Samuel Beckett" through their search engine. You can also use it to browse the TV schedules.

Articles & Reviews:

Filmgame -- 13 May 2000, IT (requires a fee). Michael Dwyer discusses the Beckett on Film Project, which was only half-completed at the time.

Toronto International Film Festival Mad Shadows -- 15 September 2000, The Globe and Mail. Liam Lacey favorably reviews the Project, which brought ten completed films to the 2000 Toronto Film Festival.

Beckett on Film -- September 2000, The Irish Herald. Mary Rose Doorly gives a brief account of the "Beckett on Film" portion of the 2000 Toronto Film Festival.

Beckett Goes to Hollywood -- 19 November 2000, The Observer. Tillmann Allmer takes a look at the Project, focusing the directors and their choices.

The Reel Beckett -- 27 Jan 2001, IT (requires a fee). Fintan O'Toole gives a perceptive and balanced review of the entire Beckett on Film Project.

Beckett on Film -- 1 February 2001, RTÉ. Nicholas Kelly reports on the films for Irish public TV.

Play it Again, Sam -- 9 Feb 2001, IT (requires a fee). Helen Meany reviews "Beckett on Film" at the Irish Film Centre.

--Allen B. Ruch
21 May 2003

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